LOS ANGELES >> Just last week, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted to a valid fear — shared with many fans (and even analysts) — when he acknowledged “there were numerous times over the last few months I wondered if we’d ever see” Mookie Betts play a game in a Dodgers uniform.
Before Betts even plays that first official game as a Dodger (Thursday’s delayed season opener), that fear has been put to rest. Roberts and everyone else can look forward to seeing Betts in a Dodgers uniform for years to come after the Dodgers announced that they had signed Betts to a 12-year contract extension Wednesday.
The deal could keep the 27-year-old Betts in Dodger blue through the 2032 season when he will be 39 years old.
The contract will take effect beginning in 2021 and reportedly pay Betts $365 million, making it the most lucrative contract in Dodgers history and the most lucrative extension in baseball history (surpassing Mike Trout’s $360 million deal with the Angels, though that was a 10-year deal). Betts will make $10 million this season (the prorated portion of his $27 million 2020 salary), making his commitment to the Dodgers a 13-year, $375 million arrangement.
“When you’re making an investment of this magnitude, you’re not just betting on the player’s ability,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “You’re also betting on the person, and with that we couldn’t be more comfortable to make that bet than on Mookie Betts.
“Obviously, he’s an extraordinary talent. Mookie can impact the game in every facet. But I think what’s really stood out to us in our couple months of being around him, it’s just the work ethic, the burning desire to get better on a daily basis. I think the tone that he will set with that standard for our young players that are in our clubhouse now and also the ones that come up in the future will leave an indelible mark on this organization so you couldn’t be more excited.”
This 13-year marriage is the product of a whirlwind courtship.
The Dodgers traded for Betts (and David Price) on the eve of spring training, having swung and missed (to varying degrees) on attempts to give mega-million dollar contracts to free agents Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon over the past two winters and survived a near breakdown of the deal with the Boston Red Sox.
They knew full well at the time that Betts could be a free agent this fall and had already turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Red Sox.
“That’s a good question,” Friedman said when asked what he thought the odds of re-signing Betts were at the time of the trade. “I knew how strong our commitment was.
“I was hopeful that we would make a good impression on Mookie just with the communication and the people we have and just the culture that’s been created that Doc had done such a good job of creating in the clubhouse. I think that’s something you can tell right away. And so we were hopeful that he would get here and fall in love with it. We’d go out, late March, Opening Day, win a bunch of games, win the World Series and we’d end up kind of staying together.”
The Dodgers had barely five weeks to make that impression — in Arizona, not Los Angeles — before the sport was shut down and players scattered, waiting out a quarantine that will delay the start of the season four months.
Friedman said there had been some contract discussions in March but “obviously, the world kind of changed on us, which put things on hold for a while.” Talks resumed “five, six days ago” with Betts requesting that discussions end before the season started.
Despite the limited exposure to the culture Friedman boasted about, Betts opted to make a long-term commitment to his new home.
“I think just being here, the time I’ve been here, the people here made me feel so comfortable,” said Betts who spent the quarantine at his home in Tennessee, fishing, golfing and spending time with his 21-month old daughter.
“The talent all up and down from the minor leagues, everybody in the front office from the owner on down is amazing. I think this organization is a well-oiled machine. I love it. I’m super, super excited to be a part of it for the next 12, 13 years — however many years it is. … I gotta bring some rings back to LA, for sure.”
Betts’ use of the plural “rings” brought to mind LeBron James’ famous proclamation of multiple championships — “not one, not two, not three …” after taking his talents to Miami. Betts laughed off the comparison.
“I gotta be Mookie Betts. I can’t be LeBron,” he said with a smile that should become very familiar to Dodgers fans over the next 13 years.
Betts joins the Dodgers as a four-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and three-time Silver Slugger with the potential to become just the second player (after Frank Robinson) to win an MVP award in both leagues — and a strong endorsement from one of his new neighbors.
“I’m excited for him. Shot him a text earlier,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout said Wednesday afternoon. “Being so close to him now, it’s pretty cool to have him out here.
“Playing against him in Boston, was a teammate at a couple of All-Star Games — what a great person. I’ve never heard anything bad about him. … His game is unbelievable. I love how he plays. You never see him upset, always playing the game with passion, always smiling and always putting up big numbers every year.”
There was some question about the salary numbers Betts could have put up this winter as a free agent in uncertain times. Teams are taking a financial hit with an abbreviated season in 2020 with the potential for depressed revenues again in 2021 if fans are still unable to attend games. A Collective Bargaining Agreement that will expire following next season added another unknown.
Betts did reportedly get some protection, receiving a $65 million signing bonus and accepting low salaries ($17.5 million in 2021 and 2022) up front. A large portion of the salary is deferred for now and there are apparently no opt-outs or no-trade provisions.
“From our standpoint back in March, if you would have said, ‘Hey Mookie wants to sign just a two year contract. He just wants to sign for 2021 and 2022’ — what we would have done in March and what we would do now would be very different,” Friedman said.
“But I think from ownership on down, this just speaks to the faith we have in things getting back to normal. Obviously this is over a much longer period of time which helps in that confidence. And it’s really high once we kind of get through this. And fortunately when you go 12 years you have nothing but time.”
Source: Orange County Register